By Rufus S. Berry II, MBA (Anti-Corruption Advocate)
We must commend Cllr. J. Augustine Toe, Commissioner, Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) for speaking out in regards to the corruption allegation at the LACC against Chairman Verdier as reported in the FrontPageAfrica newspaper. The effectiveness of the LACC fundamentally depends on the Liberian people and our international partners’ trust in its integrity as an institution and its capacity to look after the public interest rather than its own.
Cllr. J. Augustine Toe, Commissioner, Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission, said, “For your information, since 2015, the former ED started telling me about the reckless manner you were conducting the financial activities of the LACC. From what he said then, I believed him. I have not spoken out, not because I am a coward or a fool.”
As an anti-corruption advocate, I am by no means endorsing the extremely damaging allegations against Chairman Verdier. As a matter of fact, I have advocated for an immediate change at the LACC because Cllr Verdier, from my perspective, is regrettably not up to the task of leading the all-important battle against corruption in our beloved republic.
However, how long did Commissioner Toe know about these alleged corrupt activities at the LACC? How long did Commissioner Toe know that LACC’s cars weren’t serviced or repaired? How long did Commissioner Toe know that Cllr. Payma did not have a chair to sit in and work? How long did Commissioner Toe know that Cllr. Johnson sat in the heat because there wasn’t an air conditioner in his office? How long did Commissioner Toe know that the only vehicle for the prosecution division had been down for months, and program assistants had no curtains in their offices? Why now, Commissioner Toe?
Are you now speaking out because, perhaps you didn’t get your portion of the corrupt slice? Cllr Toe said, “I wanted to keep a good working relationship.” Commissioner Toe, with all due respect, the battle against corruption in our beloved republic should never be selective, and our definition of corruption should never be interpreted as a malleable concept, subject to personal judgment and interpretation.
During our recently ended presidential and legislative elections, some Liberians were asked what they think are the biggest problems the candidates should address, “corruption” unfailingly landed at the top of the list. And yet when high officials are accused, or arrested, indicted, prosecuted and convicted, public reaction is often subdued, if not met with cynicism and indifference.
Fighting corruption is not about being subject to personal judgment and interpretation, but being fair at all times. Perhaps, we should change the public’s attitude about corruption: from being a “major social and political problem,” to being “a major social and political problem only if officials we don’t approve of are guilty.” Our definition of corruption seems a malleable concept, subject to personal judgment and interpretation
These allegations brought by Commissioner Toe against Chairman Verdier are extremely serious and should be thoroughly investigated by an independent body – a distinguished auditing firm. The heads of our integrity institutions shouldn’t at all have any issue when it comes to integrity. It’s time for every commissioner at LACC to speak out publicly in regards to these allegations, because in that institution – no one should ever be mute.
At the same token, threats to integrity could arise in a broad range of ways. Some are criminal, but some aren’t. They can come from mistakes, from poor judgement, or from not understanding what it means to be a professional public servant. The hypothesis has long been established that a culture based on high standards of integrity is a core component of public service. A strong ethical culture is essential to detecting, preventing and mitigating risks to integrity.
Commissioner Toe, the Liberian people are grateful to you for speaking out, even though you might have had some damaging information about alleged corruption at your institution since 2015. As we say, it’s better late than never – however, when something goes wrong we need to act in a timely and decisive manner. This is crucial to maintain the trust of the Government and the community in our ability to manage ourselves. We must address poor or risky behavior and misconduct promptly when it is identified, and not when it’s convenient.